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New Explosion at Nuclear Plant; Yoko Ono on Japan Crisis

Aired March 14, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, apocalypse Japan. The world watches a nation in shock.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I still cannot believe that happened.


MORGAN: Thousands dead. Thousands more missing in the worst natural disaster ever to hit Japan. Whole neighborhoods washed away, rescuers from around the world desperately searching for survivors.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): I left my house with nothing. All I managed to do was evacuate my elderly parents. I don't know what to do because my house and everything is gone.


MORGAN: Now the growing nuclear emergency. Dangerous radiation leaking from damaged reactors. Hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes. Can Japan avert a meltdown? And if disaster strikes this country, will you be safe?

Also, aid for Japan. I'll ask the head of the Red Cross where your money is going.

And my exclusive live interview with Yoko Ono.

This is a special edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

Good evening. The situation in Japan tonight is dire. We start with breaking news. A little while ago, there was another explosion of a damaged nuclear power plant in the northern part of the country. And radiation levels have soared to four times their previous level.

The death toll in the wake of the tsunami has officially risen to 2,414. It will surely go much higher.

Meanwhile we've just received this extraordinary video. It was shot the moment the tsunami struck in the Japanese city of Sendai. We also received a new video of a shopping mall that erupted in flames in northern Japan. But I want to start by going to Sendai in Japan where my colleague Anderson Cooper is live on the ground.

Anderson, tell me what the latest is on this explosion that the power plant which is the third now we've had in the last three days.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN'S AC 360: Well, Piers, as you know, the death toll here just continues to rise. I'm in the port region in Sendai, a city of about a million people. And I don't know if can tell behind me, I mean there's just cars strewn all around here.

There were actually a number of fatalities in this area by the port when the tsunami came in. A number of people actually trapped in their vehicles. Their bodies have been taken out. But the cars are just still remain all over the place, tossed around. You know it's become a cliche at this point to say but like children's toys.

You know, there's a lot of areas that relief crews and search and rescue crews haven't been able to get to or are just starting to get to. I was in the area a couple of hours ago that used to be a rice field. And we're walking along. There's no way you could tell it was farmland. It was just this complete debris field.

And what was amazing about it is that the debris was probably at least 10 feet thick. So there was really no way to tell if there were people whose bodies were buried inside all that debris.

Finally, some Japanese soldiers came and they didn't have cadaver dogs, they didn't have heavy earth moving equipment. They just had sticks. And they were kind of basically just going around by smell trying to locate people. So it's going to be a number of days before they really get a sense of what the actual death toll is, how many people are actually missing at this point.

You know, we're still very much early days in this. And obviously the whole nuclear issue, you know, gives a whole other level of fear.

But what's interesting when you go around to like water distribution centers or places where people are lined up for food, there's not pandemonium. There's not -- you don't hear people arguing and yelling at each other or fighting with each other, you know, complaining about their place in line.

People are very calm. People are very orderly. And I was at one water distribution center where they ran out of water. And people have been waiting for hours. But no one was complaining when the government official -- you know, he apologized publicly and said they were going to try to get more water. But right now they were out.

And people, you know, just continue to stand in line. No one was yelling at him. People seem to -- there's a sense that people are in this together and they're just trying to cope, you know, the best way they can, Piers.

MORGAN: Anderson, thank you very much. I know that you're having trouble hearing me so we're going to come back to you and Sanjay Gupta very shortly.

I want to go straight now to Matthew Wald. He's the "New York Times'" nuclear expert to talk about this dramatic development this afternoon.

Matthew, tell me about the latest incident this new explosion. How significant is it? And how significant is it on a wider level that we've now seen three of these in the last few days?

MATTHEW L. WALD, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Piers, it's a little difficult to tell. We've seen three of them because when you have a reactor that isn't cooled properly, the steam interacts with the metal surrounding the fuel rod. And that gives off hydrogen. And the hydrogen will explode pretty easily.

The other two explosions were in the outer building. This explosion happened within the primary containment. And that's a worry because if they break the primary containment open, they' really have lost almost all the barriers to releases of radioactive materials. But so far the reports have been kind of sketchy.

MORGAN: I mean, Matthew, there were lots of wildly different report, rumors, speculation about what is really happening in these nuclear plants. It's very hard for laymen like me to get a handle on where the truth lies and how big a risk this is.

From what you are assessing with your more expert eye, how worried should we be here?

WALD: Well, it's a good question. We are some place we've never been before. We have not had this kind of core damage. Three Mile Island was core damage but it was in a different more sturdy kind of containment and it was over before we knew what was happening.

This has gone on for days. It's been a continuing struggle. Nobody is quite certain about how a reactor core will behave as it gets to be more and more damaged. We know from what's being picked up outside the plant, we're now seeing fission products, we're now seeing the radioactive materials that are created during operations.

And that means that the fuel rods have cracked open or perhaps broken open. And the steam that they're releasing because the only way they have to cool the plant is to dump-in water and let the steam out again. The steam they're releasing is getting dirtier and dirtier.

And these machines have been through a more powerful earthquake probably than they were designed for. They seem to have survived that. They've been through a tsunami that they weren't designed for. And it's shake and bake. Now they're getting occasional explosions.

They've had problems opening and closing valves. It's getting harder to deal with keeping the cores covered. And it's -- you can foresee outcomes where most of the radiation, radioactive material stays inside. But it's just not clear at this moment where it's going. MORGAN: What I can't understand in this in terms of the planning as to where they put these nuclear plants is clearly a country like Japan, they have a lot of earthquakes. And so you can almost choose anywhere in the country and it could be deemed a risk.

WALD: Yes.

MORGAN: Why would you put them anywhere near the ocean when we know that tsunamis can get triggered by earthquakes? Because unless I'm reading it wrong, it was the tsunami which has hit some of the power areas around these plants which has caused most of the problem.

WALD: That's right. They appear to have survived the earthquake but not the tsunami. The reason is you need huge volumes of cooling water for a nuclear reactor. The nuclear reactor heats up water, turns it to steam. The steam turns the turbine, the turbine turns the generator, you get electricity.

Then you've got to take the steam and cool it back into the water. The way do you that is having a large body of water.

Here in the United States, we do that on big lakes. We do that on rivers. And we put in a cooling tower so we need less water, but we, too, have a lot of reactors that are on the ocean or on major bays.

Luckily, the east coast and the Gulf Coast are not subject to tsunami. The west coast may be. But those are designed for tsunami. At least they're designed for the biggest tsunami we think they'd see. What happened in this case is this plant was hit by both an earthquake and then a tsunami bigger than what it was designed for.

MORGAN: Matthew Wald, thank you very much.

I'm now going to go back to Anderson Cooper who I think can now hear me.

Anderson, what is the latest? And I heard your dramatic early report to me. But in terms of this latest explosion, the nuclear explosion, how worried are people where you are about the possible radiation fallout here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, first of all, Piers, as happening sometimes in disaster situations, we're having a hard time actually hearing you. So Anderson and I are together.

Just want to describe a couple of things that we've seen over the last few days. Obviously the focus for me has been how do you care for people who have been subjected to these tragedies, all the images that we've seen over the last several days?

You know, I had a chance to visit some of the hospitals. They were trying to take care of people who are injured, severely, but survived. It's really hard to imagine that they can even survive some of the image that's we've seen. But I'll tell you, you know, unlike Haiti, for example, or other natural disasters, you know, people in this particular disaster seem to either be injured, sort of either walking wounded, so to speak ,or they didn't survive at all. There was a very small percentage of people who were critically injured and need care right away.

Now Japan, and luckily has one of the best hospital systems for this sort of thing. Interestingly enough, Anderson, you may know this as well. Friday when this happened a lot of the clinics in these road areas were closed. They simply weren't open.

They had to take people from the places to hospitals that are far away. They don't use helicopters in all these places. So it was by ground. You seen all the images, simply getting around is challenging. So that logistical challenge presented itself immediately.

But we got a chance to see how they were taking care of a lot of those patients in those hospitals. But the big concern now, a lot of these evacuation centers, and you may have seen this, is that people were displaced as a result of the tsunami.

And even from as far away as you were, we started seeing people being evacuated to these evacuation centers because of concerns about radiation poisoning. They're hearing local radio reports, a lot of them, as you probably know, have been, you know, somewhat misinformed, somewhat panic driven.

But as a result, we got two sort of streams of people now coming to these evacuation centers.

COOPER: And in terms of radiation, do we know at this point where it is safe? I mean how far away from these reactors? Because the government had put this 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant which has the plant that's have the biggest problems. But how arbitrary is that?

GUPTA: It seems very arbitrary. And I talked to lots of experts both back in the states and people who focus on this sort of thing around the world. And it is an arbitrary number.

What they can say now, they're starting to get some data back. Because they're testing people in the area. It's not the most sophisticated testing. I mean they're using Geiger counters around them, trying to get an idea of how much radiation exposure they've had.

The best way to know unfortunately if someone has been exposed is if they start to develop any symptoms. But these Geiger counters at least seem to indicate that the maximum amount of radiation poisoning that people are getting is similar to what people might get from a chest X-ray or from simply getting, you know, the earth's natural radiation over about a month's period.

So it doesn't seem that high right now. And it seems to be very much reflected by dose and distance. So how much radiation is there and how far you are away from it? But I know you were -- you know however many kilometers away, those numbers are somewhat arbitrary.

COOPER: Right. It's obviously of concern to people. But I mean I'm sure you've seen this. As I said before, you really don't see pandemonium. I mean people -- there is this sense of order here and calm that is really kind of remarkable. I've never seen it before in a disaster like this.

GUPTA: At the evacuation center we were at, really quickly, supermarkets were essentially donating food. They said we are going to donate food to these evacuation centers. They have now run out. So the evacuation center that we were at sort of relying on the goodwill of volunteers to essentially donate supplies.

You know, the question is, as we've seen so many times, how long is that going to last? How long is it going to be before other supplies get in here?

COOPER: A very fluid situation obviously changing really by the hour, Piers.

MORGAN: Anderson, Sanjay, thank you very much.

And just to remind people, communication is very, very bad in north of Japan at the moment. They couldn't actually hear me there. But they gave some really fascinating detail.

And now I want to go to CNN's Kyung Lah who is in Sendai. Hope she can hear me.

Kyung, I mean one of the most fascinating things that I just heard there and is really remarkable to watch is the apparent calm of the people in Japan given the scale of the disaster that's before them.

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. But if you live here, as I do, and you talk to people and you see how this culture works, it's very apparent that that is what's going to happen.

I would be extraordinarily surprised if there were any sort of pandemonium or looting. That's just not the way this culture runs. Japanese people thrive order and civility above all else.

And so the idea of complaining is even something that's really not accepted here in Japan. That's why when you heard Anderson talking about when the water ran out, people were not upset. That is expected here.

Also the sense of community. That's something that we saw after the Kobe earthquake. And what happens is the government can't necessarily be everywhere right away. So what we're seeing in these evacuation centers is a good will of people, community members pitching in.

Those limited supplies when they can't immediately arrive, the supplies that are there in the evacuation centers, the people distributed evenly amongst themselves. I saw yesterday one man handing his bowl to another elderly person who had not eaten. That's just the way this culture works. And so the issues that we've seen in other countries after a crisis like this is not something that we're really expecting here.

If you hear of any sort of issue like that, that will tell you that the culture is becoming just basically spiraling out of control. And that is just something we haven't seen yet.

MORGAN: And Kyung, how worried are the people there about what they're hearing from these nuclear reactors? We've now had a third explosion in the last few hours. No one seems to be quite sure what is going on. But it clearly it's extremely worrying and dangerous.

Is this commuting down to the people on the streets?

LAH: I think it depends who you talk to and where you are. Here in the city center of Sendai, where we're not in the immediate tsunami zone, people are paying attention. All the televisions are on.

People are watching the government briefings. And I think because the government is out there talking to people and most Japanese people do accept what they're told by the government, at this point we're not saying people in the city center all that concerned. They are paying attention to it. But there's no sense of panic here.

Now when you get to the tsunami zone where I spent the bulk of my time, I can tell you that you they're simply not paying attention to that crisis right now. Because for them, it's far more personal. It's about where am I going to sleep? Where is my relative? Where is my house?

And so because they can't wrap their mind around that problem, it's very difficult to look at the larger issue of this nuclear issue. So it really does depend, Piers, on where you're standing here in northern Japan.

MORGAN: And when you look at the utter devastation that has been roared on some of these towns that have been just obliterated, clearly it's a desperate situation. Have you any idea where this death toll is going to end up, Kyung? Is it still impossible to put any real gauge on it?

LAH: It's really impossible. We've spoken to a number of search and rescue people and the military as well. And what they tell us is until the water recedes, they're really not going to know.

We heard Anderson talking about how search and rescue crews are using sticks. That's what they're all using. Their putting sticks into debris and dry land. They're wading into some of the water but it's extraordinarily difficult for them because in some cases the water still does remain up to chest high.

So what they're telling us is until the water recedes out of that area, they can't do an accurate death toll. They can tell us how many people are missing, they think. But they're still not even sure of an exact toll of the missing because communications remains extraordinarily difficult.

And the evacuation centers near the tsunami zone here in Sendai, the way people are getting messages to each other is by going from evacuation center to evacuation center and leaving notes whether they may be pasted or written on the walls of these evacuation centers, looking for people, leaving mobile phone numbers that frankly just don't work in this region.

MORGAN: Kyung, you've been doing some remarkable reporting in incredibly difficult circumstances. So thank you for that. And please, stay safe and continue to bring us all the news as and when it happens.

Next, where does your money go when you give to disaster relief? My exclusive interview with the president of the American Red Cross.


MORGAN: Breaking news tonight. Just a little while ago there was another explosion in the damaged nuclear power plant in the northern part of Japan. Radiation levels have soared to four times their previous level.

Meanwhile on the aid front, Goldman Sachs announced today will match employees' personal donations to the tsunami relief effort. Millions of dollars have already been donated to help the people of Japan.

But will it be enough? And where exactly does your money go?

Joining me now is Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross.

Gail, where do you possibly start with a disaster on the scale of the one that we are seeing in Japan?

GAIL MCGOVERN, THE AMERICAN RED CROSS: Well, first of all, Piers, thank you for having me on. And I do want to express my deepest condolences to the people of Japan. The image that I've just been watching on your show are so devastating. I can't even imagine what they're going through.

Obviously the need is going to be quite great. Fortunately the Japanese Red Cross Society in Japan is very strong. They have two million volunteers and they have told us that donations will be most welcomed. So we are beginning to accept donations.

And as always, the American public is already showing their incredible generosity and we'll be working with the Japanese Red Cross Society to figure out where the need is greatest and how we can apply assistance.

MORGAN: I mean in terms of sheer volume of natural disasters we've seen in the last decade, how bad is this one from your perspective in terms of the work the Red Cross is needing to do to get to people there? MCGOVERN: Well, it's an absolutely amazing the extent of damage and the visuals that we see on our screen for the last 72 hours. But each disaster is different. And having seen the aftermath of earthquakes personally, I can tell you it's difficult to measure which is worse.

When you're impacted by a natural disaster this size and scope, to you it feels like the end of the world. And I have seen the look on people's faces right after an experience like this. And it's -- they're just in deep, deep shock.

MORGAN: You've been running an excellent campaign since this happened where people can text Red Cross, I think it's to 90999 and they immediately donate $10.

MCGOVERN: That's --

MORGAN: I have, like many people, tweeted this and re-tweeted it, trying to encourage people to donate.

Some of the reaction I get is a predictable one in situations like this. How much of the money that goes to the Red Cross can be guaranteed to go straight to Japan and help there?

MCGOVERN: Well, we are very proud of the fact that 91 cents of every dollar that is donated to us goes to the relief efforts in the country that we're targeting. So 91 cents of every dollar went directly to Haiti. And the same thing will happen with the Japanese Red Cross.

MORGAN: And what is the immediate priority when this kind of thing happens? Clearly Japan's been hit by three different attacks here. One was the earthquake, then you've had the tsunami, and now we have the ongoing nuclear threat.

This is pretty unprecedented stuff, isn't it? What is the priority for the Red Cross right now?

MCGOVERN: Well, right now food, shelter, medical supplies. Those are the top priorities. And the Japanese Red Cross has deployed almost 100 medical units with about 700 medical personnel out to as many communities as they can reach to help provide assistance.

In addition, people are suffering from hypothermia, particularly the elderly. So the sheltering is extremely important to get people out of the cold. And as the operations start evolving into recovery, I'm sure that the building damage getting people back into permanent homes is going to be the next big priority.

MORGAN: Well, it's clearly an enormous task that you're facing and Red Cross does an incredible job in situations like this.

And just to remind people, if you want to help, the best and quickest way is to text Red Cross to 90999. You will automatically donate $10.

Thank you very much indeed, Gail, for an update. I hope we can talk to you later in the week.

MCGOVERN: I hope so, too. Thank you.

MORGAN: Thank you.

Coming up after the break, an exclusive interview with Yoko Ono. She experienced an earthquake years ago in Tokyo and she's here live tonight to talk about this latest disaster.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): I thought I was dying when I was pushed in the water. For my folks, for my family, I decided to make every effort to survive.


MORGAN: Repeating our breaking news tonight. Another explosion at a damaged nuclear power plant in the northern part of Japan. Radiation levels have soared to four times the previous level.

I'm joined now by my special guest Yoko Ono. Many years ago she was in a Tokyo hotel room with John Lennon and their son Sean when an earthquake stuck. An eerie coincidence, and now joining me is Yoko.

Yoko, obviously, an utterly desperate time for your home country of Japan.

YOKO ONO, ARTIST, FORMER WIFE OF JOHN LENNON: Yes. It's terrible. It's so terrible.

MORGAN: When did you hear what had happened? Where were you?

ONO: Well, I was in New York, of course.

MORGAN: And how did you hear the news?

ONO: Well, like you heard it, too, I suppose, through the -- through the TV news.

MORGAN: Can you believe what you're seeing?

ONO: I just can't believe it. I mean we were in an earthquake which was not very bad. And usually there is some kind of earthquake that people are saying, did you feel that last night? No, we didn't or something. And very sort of light things.

MORGAN: When you went through that earthquake with John and Sean --

ONO: Yes. That was not that light.

MORGAN: What did it feel like? ONO: Well, I was so scared. And so I immediately went into a closet which is an open closet. And I just held Sean like this. You know? And closing my eyes and going -- like a prayer. It was a natural thing to do. And afterwards, John was saying, why did you go in the closet? Well, he was there, too. But I think he was very surprised that we had to go into closet.

MORGAN: Was it a very powerful explosion? For those who have never been in an earthquake, I was in a very minor one a couple times in California. You get them quite regularly in somewhere like Los Angeles. And it's scary. Mine lasted ten seconds, but you feel like the world is ending when these things happen.

What was it look for you?

ONO: That one was very -- pretty bad. And so my body -- because it remembers it, so each time I remember it, my body goes a little stiff, you know. And --

MORGAN: Obviously the earthquake that you went through pales into insignificance compared to what we're now seeing.

ONO: Definitely.

MORGAN: This is one of the worst earthquakes in history.

ONO: I think so.

MORGAN: And the devastation to your country -- I mean, do you have family, friends there? Are they all OK?

ONO: Because most of them are in Tokyo, and Tokyo was all right in a way. But I think that they did experience the big shake. And that will stay with them for a long time, I'm sure.

But I like to see it as -- you know, something that would become all right. Because right now everybody is so upset about it, of course. And it's a very sad thing to happen. But I think that one day it will be like an architect's heaven.

All over the world, all these architects will probably get some kind of points or something, and try to go to Japan and see if they can -- if they're allowed to make their own building or something. Because in the usual cities, the usual countries, you can't do that now.

But others were saying, you know, the future cities are like this or something. And we still don't have that kind of country.

MORGAN: Tell me this. You know the Japanese people a lot better than most people, because you're from that country. Everyone's been struck by how calm they have been in the face of such a calamitous. Is that very much the Japanese culture to react that way?

ONO: Well, they're not violent people. They're innately calm, kind people. And also, they're very resilient. And I think that I experienced the Second World War. And after the war, I went back to Tokyo from where I was evacuating. And Tokyo was like flat, totally flat from being bombed.

But, well, somehow --

MORGAN: It rebuilt.

ONO: Somehow they had the energy and the courage and the wisdom to rebuild it. And I think that's going to happen now again.

MORGAN: What is your message to the people of Japan? You obviously one of the most famous Japanese people in the world. They would want to hear from you now as some form of comfort. What would you say to them?

ONO: We're all together in spirit. And we have to start bringing out our superpowers, which is the energy, resilience and wisdom that we have. And I think that it's going to be quite something. I think this country is going to be -- for the first time, become the kind of country that the whole world will envy.

MORGAN: You've been very active in the last few days in encouraging people to donate to the Red Cross.

ONO: Yes.

MORGAN: Are there other ways you think people should be helping? What is the best way for Americans in particular to help here?

ONO: Well, as of now, I found that there's no definite funds -- foundation in Japan that we can send money to. So Red Cross is it. I sent mine to Red Cross. I think -- I believe in Red Cross. They're very good. So as of now, it is Red Cross I think.

MORGAN: When you watch these scenes, Yoko, finally -- I've never seen anything quite like this in my life. People are going to struggle to keep positive and helpful there, aren't they?

ONO: Yes. We definitely have --

MORGAN: What's interesting is what you said about the aftermath of the Second World War, because the prime minister of Japan said that this was the worst attack on the country, really, since the Second World War, in terms of the devastation.

ONO: It's very similar. And we did recover, and in an incredible way. And I'm sure that we will, too. And I think that it's a kind of challenge that we're given now, a very big challenge. Nobody wants this kind of big challenge.

But well, with a big challenge, I'm sure that some big, big beautiful results will happen.

MORGAN: Yoko Ono, thank you very much for coming in.

ONO: Thank you. MORGAN: Coming up, disaster can strike anywhere, any time. Is this country prepared?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm alive, but I don't know if it's good or bad. I don't know if it's good or bad that I survived.


MORGAN: Once again, our breaking news tonight, another explosion at a damaged nuclear power plant in northern Japan. Radiation levels have soared to four time their previous level. What would happen if a disaster like the one that just hit Japan struck this country? Is the United States fully prepared? Would you be safe?

Here now is FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. Craig, how prepared is the United States? We hear lots of speculation about it being ready for this kind of thing. Can any country be ready for an attack of a natural disaster like this?

CRAIG FUGATE, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: I think it's too far. Are we better prepared than we were for Katrina? Yes. But does that mean in future disasters we won't see the tragedy, damages and loss of life? The answer is, yes, that's going to happen.

It's really going to come back to the type of disaster and where it happens to the initial impacts. So the second part of the question, are we better able to respond to the survivors and their needs? And can we mitigate against these hazards for future threat?

So we got a lot of work to do in this country. But we have made a lot of improvements since Katrina to do better at responding to this level of an event.

MORGAN: Clearly, the on going very serious situation is the one at the nuclear plants in Japan. What is the situation with the American nuclear plants? How vulnerable are they to a similar perfect storm of earthquake and tsunami causing the kind of partial meltdowns that we're seeing?

FUGATE: Well, the one thing that we do -- and this was after the Three Mile Island incident -- is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency required that each licensed operator conduct annual exercises, as well as drills. So part of this is both from the design of these plants against the threats they face, but also how do we practice and exercise what could happen if we do have an event?

And, again, as we saw in Japan, you're going to evacuate people if there is a potential for that risk and everything. I really want to come back to, as much as there is a lot of focus on the nuclear power plant and what is happening there, I think you also have to remember the enormity of the response to the tsunami and the earthquake, but particularly the tsunami and how that is playing out, and how we would have to respond to that as a nation.

MORGAN: What are the key lessons that you are learning watching what is happening in Japan, for a similar situation potentially one day happening in America?

FUGATE: Probably the one thing that you have heard time and time again from your guests is how resilient the Japanese population is. Part of which is they have annual drills, particularly for earthquakes. There is high level of citizen participation.

We have an opportunity here in the United States, particularly in the central U.S., to practice at the 100-year anniversary of the New Madrig (ph) earthquake on April 28th, a central U.S. earthquake exercise that focused on personal preparedness. And I think this goes back to what they know in Japan, as with all of these types of hazards, with earthquakes being a high hazard there, is citizen participation and preparedness adds to the ability of government to focus their response on the greatest needs, while many people are able to take care of themselves that are not in this area of the greatest devastation.

MORGAN: I want to bring in now Dr. Irwin Redlener, who is the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Colombia University. You heard what we just heard there from there Craig Fugate. Do you agree with him, that we are in a relatively strong position in America?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, I agree with him that things have been improved since 9/11 and certainly since Katrina. I should note that Mr. Fugate has added a tremendous amount of professionalism to FEMA. It's been absolutely tremendous.

But my view of the world, in terms of our ability here in the U.S. to respond to a disaster of this nature, is that we are very, very far from being prepared. We are riddled with problems and challenges that we're going to have to get ahold of, if we're going to actually get ourselves in to a position that is even as well prepared as the Japanese were.

Japanese citizens and government were far more prepared to deal with events of this nature and this magnitude than we would be in the U.S. I would dread this event happening here. I think we would see far different outcomes for a variety of structural reasons that really plague our preparedness efforts.

MORGAN: Craig Fugate, let me bring you back in there. Where would you say America is most vulnerable to something like this happening? People tell me about the San Andreas Fault Line being a potential next target for this earthquake. Do you know? Do you have any way of predicting where the most likely places are that may suffer this thing?

FUGATE: Sure. The U.S. Geological Survey does great mapping of where the seismic risk is. I think in California they've done a lot since their past earthquakes to improve their building codes. We know a lot of places in this country, particularly the central U.S. and other areas, we have a lot of construction, older construction that does not meet or is mitigated against the seismic risk.

So we would expect to see a greater percentage of structural failures if we have an earthquake of that magnitude outside of areas that have taken the steps to mitigate against the seismic risk.

MORGAN: Where are we talking about?

FUGATE: Well, places like the central U.S. and places you may not think about, such as fault lines that occur in other parts of the country that don't have a lot of activity, but have had significant historical events, such as down in Charleston, South Carolina and other places.

So, you know, we tend to always think the earthquake risk is in California, maybe Alaska, but we also have seismic risk throughout the country, various parts. And that's why it's important that when we talk about being prepared, it's not just those areas that, you know, we know about hurricanes, we know about earthquakes. But what about in your community?

And I the other point that was made about our level of preparedness -- if we just looked at government alone, I would agree. But we're doing a better job, I think, of bringing the private sector in as part of the team, really working with the retailers and others to get supplies in the areas, and focusing on the greatest need.

But it comes back to the one point and that is personal preparedness. And so we encourage people that some disasters give us warning. But earthquakes very little at all notice. That's why it is important to have a family preparedness plan. If you don't have that, go to

Again, it's been pointed out, we have made improvements. We still have a lot of work to get ready. But this is what we have planned for. This type of event, as much as people say it will never happen in my community -- low probability, high consequence events is why we have to build the depth and the capability to respond as a nation.

REDLENER: And I agree with Mr. Fugate very much. But the problem we're facing now is that we have grossly under-invested in some of the actual structures and systems that we will need to have in place if we have a major disaster.

For example, our health and hospital systems are really unprepared to deal with any kind of major disaster. And it has to do with our unwillingness to really invest to make sure the systems can surge up when they need to.

The citizen preparedness issue is just as Mr. Fugate is saying. We have a lot of work to do there.

But the bigger problem may be something that's very structural here in the U.S., Piers. That is the fact that the federal government develops and does develop very excellent guidelines. But the states are actually not obligated, nor the cities to follow those guidelines.

We have a federalist system. We don't have really national direction of disaster preparedness planning, as they do in Japan, as they do in Great Britain, as they do in Israel and so forth.

So we have more than 100 committees and subcommittees in Congress that are appropriating money in these various silos. They're doing this and that. We don't have a central focus and a central plan. We're really quite worried about that.

But the main problem is lack of investment in the things that we'll need to protect us in this kind of event.

MORGAN: Well, thank you both very much. The key point really is that after Japan, we have to think the unthinkable and be prepared for that. Because nobody, I think, could have possibly predicted what we are seeing going on there now and quite the scale that has happened. But thank you very much.

Coming up, the nuclear emergency in Japan; will it affect energy policy in this country?


MORGAN: In the wake of a new nuclear explosion to the damaged nuclear power plants in Japan, we're learning tonight that Japan's leading stock index, the Nikkei, has fallen below the 9,000 level. Joining me now is Bill Richardson, the former secretary of the Department of Energy, and former governor of New Mexico, and James Woolsey, former director of the CIA.

Let me start with you, Governor Richardson. What does this mean for the American nuclear energy project?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW MEXICO: Well, it's going to be tough days ahead for the nuclear power industry. We have 104 reactors in 31 states; 20 percent of our energy is nuclear. The administration wants to build 20 new power plants -- nuclear power plants in the next 20 years or so.

They're going to have some tough times. I do think that nuclear power is important. It emits no greenhouse gas emissions, so it's not a pollutant. But there's some safety issues that, because of this accident, are going to have to be addressed.

I think in any future plans, we have to be careful about building any new facilities in seismically active areas. We have to be sure that containment vessels are built very strongly in earthquake prone areas. And we have to look at the 31 plants that use similar technology to the ones that have been used in Japan.

I think the main message in our nuclear energy policy is we have to continue it, but it has to be done carefully. We should use this time for a pause, a time-out, not a moratorium, but to make sure that we learn some lessons from what's happened here in Japan.

MORGAN: Jim Woolsey, let me turn to you. If you were still running the CIA, would you believe everything that we're hearing coming out of the Japanese administration about what's going on with these nuclear plants? Or would you be suspicious the situation may be worse than we're told?

JIM WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: You never believe everything you're hearing, but we don't spy on the Japanese. They're friends and allies, so most of our information is going to come from them.

I think the security aspects of this that are the most interesting is that this may begin to move the world somewhat away from nuclear power. I don't think that's a bad thing, because I think natural gas can, to a great extent, take its place with the new gas shale extraction, assuming we can do it in an environmentally sound way.

But nuclear power has been a pathway for several countries to develop nuclear weapons. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, once you have a nuclear power plant, you can get into enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium. It's what the North Koreans have done. It's what the Iranians are doing. It's what other countries have done.

So nuclear power plants are something of a proliferation machine. And that's a very serious problem. I think that demand for nuclear power in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia is going to continue. The reason they would get into nuclear power is not really because they want it for electricity, but because they want an excuse to match Iran's nuclear program.

I see this as a slowdown for nuclear power. And I don't think that that is a bad thing. We ought to be very careful how and where we build nuclear power plants in the future.

MORGAN: One of the issues here is that there will be terrorist organizations around the world looking at the vulnerability of these nuclear plants and looking at them as potential ultimate dirty bombs, won't they?

WOOLSEY: Well, if they can get hold of some of the material for dirty bombs, yes. But you can get some of that in hospitals and the like. I think the security problem is the electric grid. It's not so much the individual power plants.

Power plants in the United States, anyway, and in many countries are really quite well protected. They may not be well protected against earthquakes and tsunamis of this size, but pretty well protected.

The problem is that the grid itself is vulnerable because a lot of its control systems operate across the Internet, so called Scada (ph) systems. One can hack into them. One can otherwise disrupt them increasingly. That's the problem.

MORGAN: Governor Richardson, very quickly here, what would you say are the key lessons that America needs to learn in terms of its energy program from what we've seen in Japan in the last few days?

RICHARDSON: Number one, we have to recognize that we need to move toward more diverse sources of energy. We can't just do fossil fuels, coal, oil, nuclear. Those industries are important. But we have to shift I think more toward renewable, towards natural gas.

We need to find ways to diversify and that's the main lesson.

MORGAN: Thank you both very much indeed for your time.

Here's my colleague Anderson Cooper, who has a remarkable story coming up on his show tonight. Don't you, Anderson?


MORGAN: We'll have more on the Japan disaster and breaking news when we come back.


MORGAN: Now I'm joined by CNN's Anna Coren, who's live in Sendai. Anna, tell me what the latest is in relation to the third nuclear explosion. How worried are people on the ground there?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Piers, I've got to say that people are starting to get worried. I think up until today, people thought that, you know, authorities sort of had it reasonably under control, that they would contain the situation.

But with these new explosions, people are starting to get a little bit edgy. We are only 60 kilometers north of that power plant. So people are really starting to ask questions and demand the answers from the government.

Now, we've been spending a lot of time further north in those devastated communities. People up there are just trying to pick up the pieces. They're returning to their homes, or what's left of their homes, complete and absolute ruin. So, Piers, this is such a tough time for the community on the northeast coast of Japan.

MORGAN: Thanks very much, Anna. It's obviously a desperately worrying time for them. And our hearts go out to them all.

And now with more from Japan here is my colleague Anderson Cooper with "AC 360," live in Japan.